How healthy are community papers? The sudden death of the Eagle Times

A scenic ride along the Connecticut River valley from my abode near Brattleboro, Vt., on the New Hampshire side of the valley, is the city of Claremont — a typical New England mill town with a population of 13,000, a regional hospital, a state college branch, a relatively sound local economy (unemployment rate of 6.0 percent), and until last Friday, a local daily newspaper with a circulation of about 7,800, the Eagle Times.

But on Thursday, Eagle Times owner and publisher Harvey Hill threw in the towel, after subsidizing losses in his operations to the tune of “seven figures”. He gathered his employees and announced that Eagle Publications was filing for Chapter 7 bankruptcy (some were told by e-mail), that Friday’s edition of the paper would be its last, and that the company’s three weekly publications would not publish any more issues. Chapter 7 means the company is heading for liquidation, not reorganization. (Note: links to the newspaper’s web site may not last much longer.)

Locally, the big concern is what will move into the void. At least one entrepreneur has a plan. But more broadly, the big question is what the Claremont situation portends for small “community” newspapers — both weeklies and dailies — across the country. The conventional wisdom has been that it’s primarily the big metropolitan newspapers that are in trouble; that papers in smaller markets remain profitable, if less so than in the past.

An Inland Press Association study cited by Alan Mutter, the Newsosaur, in several recent posts suggests that papers under 15,000 in circulation have seen revenue grow slightly from 2004 to 2008, while suffering a 64.8% drop in profits. But the study is based on data from only 120 newspapers of all sizes, and may not have a representative sample of papers in any particular size group.

Continue reading this post at Nieman Journalism Lab.